My wife spends a good bit of time working on jigsaw puzzles, a pastime well-suited to our lives in a senior apartment complex under the safety constraints of the covert epidemic. I often reflect on the way many folks seem to be puzzling their way through life. They find some things of interest and begin fitting those pieces together, trying to get them all to fit properly, to form an understandable life that has strength and stability.
A jigsaw puzzle makes a single picture that’s right on the front of the box and maybe another copy of the picture is on a sheet inside. As you fit the pieces together you can constantly refer to the picture on the box to see if the location of the pieces make sense and what the next pieces you need to find might be.
But puzzling through life is hard, and often seemingly unrewarding. There is no picture to follow, or there may be a lot of different pictures offered to you by the various people that enter your life, intentionally or accidentally.
When our neighbors could use the community room downstairs, for exactly what the name implies, there was always a communal puzzle going. Even when no one else was there to join you, at least you could get out of the solitary confinement of your apartment. Sharing a puzzle seems straightforward, I put pieces in, you put pieces in, and there is no question about the picture that is coming together. Still there are many different puzzle strategies, and at times this created conflict.
Some people like to corral all the pieces with a distinctive color or pattern, and pull them off to the side. They would build their own section and add it back as an assembly. Others want to start in one area and only build out in a continuous expansion from the point they began. If pieces have been pulled aside incorrectly, or if the continuous expansion butts up against an incomplete assembly, then something has to be worked out. One of the ongoing differences of opinion was in how to organize the pieces to make them easier to find. Some want to organize by shape, others by color. It wasn’t unusual to see one person spend an hour or two carefully organizing the pieces, only to come back the next day to a completely different organization.
In a community jigsaw puzzle, though there might be these minor conflicts, no one ever disassembled what another person had fitted together, or destroyed the puzzle table altogether. In puzzling out life, through carelessness, or by intention, someone may pull apart the pieces you fit together. They can be torn apart by someone who supposed to be a friend or partner. Sometimes circumstances up end the whole table.
A common Christian teaching points to the Bible as that missing picture, the map to the puzzle of life. I’ve heard it referred to as life’s instruction manual. Others say the Bible is a book of principles of life, and that those principles define and guide their life. These views of the Bible true and impossible. Though the instructions and principles are there, they don’t refer directly to only your exact choice or circumstance. If you go to the book of Proverbs, there are many warnings against the immoral troublemakers among us. Such a warning might be a principal that we agree with completely, and yet we might not be able to understand and recognize such a person. Troublemakers are often sly and carefully conceal their nature. The principles in the Bible cannot by themselves prevent specific bad decisions or forewarn you that someone is not to be trusted.
I was visiting with a pastor one day, when he told me that the Bible was the final and complete revelation of God. In this thinking, the Bible is all you ever need to know about God and since the Bible is complete there will be nothing more ever revealed. One of the reasons that I can be troublesome, or seen as troublesome, is that struck with an assertion, my mind furiously examines all I know to decide if the assertion is true. I might think yes, I agree. It could be I don’t know, and I have to look into it further (perhaps compulsively). In this case I simply said, “I don’t agree. I don’t believe that this is true because the Bible says revelation is not complete.”
To his credit, though he had been well schooled in seminary, and I had come from the wild, with my own studies and scattered teachings of several churches, he was willing to have me come back for another conversation after I had sorted through Scripture. Pulling all the verses that include the word reveal in the New Testament shows different patterns in the use of the word. God promises that certain things will be revealed in the future, implying revelation is not yet complete. Sometimes individuals are told that their knowledge was a direct revelation. This implies personal revelation not recorded in scripture. To me, the most exciting use is in God’s promises to be available to reveal himself directly to those who seek to know him.
To step back look at this another way, suppose you are entering a new relationship and someone handed you, “The Book of _____”, assuring you that everything you need to know about your new love was in that book. I believe everyone would read it, even if just from curiosity. It might help understand more about your new love and your developing relationship. It might give you much-needed insights into your new love’s personality and the way they have reacted in different situations. But no one would then say, “I’m good, everything I need in a loving relationship is between the covers of this book.”. Your relationship cannot be contained within the pages of a book. You need your love to hold you, whisper to you, and reassure you with their presence to complete loving intimacy. As amazing as it is, God seeks the deepest sort of intimacy with you.
Yes, the Bible contains important instructions and valuable principles. It is often a set of secure guardrails to keep your thinking between the ditches. But we are called into a loving relationship with the living God. My God is real, tangible, and ever present in his loving relationship with me.
My urgent prayer is that what I share here points beyond life as a puzzle to be assembled, and into the intended picture. I pray we move beyond rules we unable to follow, beyond aspirations we will fall short of, and to a direct and passionate relationship with God.